Awka Diocese Bids Farewell to Frs. Azolibe, Okonkwo

The atmosphere was filled with mixed feelings of sadness over their great loss and gratitude to God for lives spent in ideal service to God and humanity, as the Catholic Diocese of Awka, last Monday, July 9, at the priests’ cemetery, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Awka, interred two of her priests, Rev Fr. Christopher Chukwudiebere Azolibe and Rev Fr. Hyacinth Belonwu Okonkwo.
The late Rev Fr. Azolibe, who died on Sunday, June 10, 2018, at the age of 55, was until his death the parish priest of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Igboukwu, and dean, Igboukwu Catholic Deanery. He hailed from Isuofia in Aguata L.G.A. Anambra State, and was ordained a Catholic priest on August 15, 1998.
The late Rev Fr Okonkwo, who died on Friday, June 22, 2018, at 71 years, was until his death, a retired priest in-residence at St Joseph’s Parish, Amesi. He hailed from Aghuluezechukwu, Aguata L.G.A, Anambra State, and was ordained as the first indigenous priest of Aguluezechukwu on April 5, 1975.

Both priests were at different times, parish priests at St Gabriel’s Parish, Ifitedunu, and after years of battling silently with declining health, died at the same St Joseph’s Hospital, Adazi-Nnukwu, Anaocha L.G.A, Anambra State.
Leading in the concelebrated burial Mass at St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, Awka, the chief mourner and Catholic bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev Dr. Paulinus Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor, thanked God for the exemplary lives lived by the duo. Bishop Ezeokafor, who received the death of the late priests with shock while on his annual vacation in far-away United States of America, commended all, who stood by and supported Rev Frs. Azolibe and Okonkwo throughout their priestly vocation as well as in their ill health.
In his homily, the parish priest of St John the Baptist Catholic Parish, Ezinifite, Aguata L.G.A, Rev. Fr. Bernard Aniebene, chided all against detractors, but instead, be guided accordingly by God’s will in their day-to-day activities.
Pointing out that orderliness was the first law in heaven, Fr Aniebene decried the rate at which people wallow in sin of disorderliness, saying that many people had continued to derail from God’s plans for them, please their fellow man instead of God, and by so doing, abused the will of God.
He noted that death was a necessary end, and advised all to overcome sudden and unprepared deaths through mending the loopholes in their lives, as well as avoiding recklessness and indiscriminate sinful lives.
Rev Fr. Aniebene, who was a close associate and a classmate of the late Rev. Fr Christopher Azolibe (1998 priests’ set), described the late priest as an open minded, peaceful, loving and committed Catholic priest, who did not allow his ill health to affect his priestly responsibilities and academic pursuit.
Late Rev Fr. Belonwu according to the homilist, was always seen looking serious, but he remained committed to his priestly duties which he carried out with so much love and lasting belief in the faith.
He described the deceased priests as those who negated their nature and prepared for their demise to gain lasting salvation, saying that to gain salvation, the living must negate their nature.
Awka Diocesan Presbyterium, through funeral oration signed, and read by the secretary, Rev. Fr. Cosmas Okechukwu Ebebe, eulogized late Fr. Azolibe as a distinguished Catholic priest, a humble servant of God, a true shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ, a respectful servant of God, a simple, kindhearted and satisfied true priest of God, who died in active service in the Lord’s vineyard.
Late Fr Azolibe, who had battled diabetes for the greater part of his priestly ministry, lived in consciousness of his health issues. He treasured the sacred priesthood, respected the authority in the Church, was an accomplished builder, who had a good sense of maintenance culture, and very eloquent in his silence, as his good works spoke more for him.
Fondly known as Fr Azo, late Rev Fr Christopher Azolibe was also until his death, the chaplain of Knights of St John International, Igboukwu Commandery; the Chaplain of Catholic Women’s Organisation (C.W.O), Igboukwu Deanery and a Master’s Degree Student of Department of Religion and Society, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University (COOU), Igboariam, among others. He was also a former parish priest of St Peter’s Parish, Nkwelle, Awka.
The Awka Diocesan Presbyterium through another funeral oration signed, and read by the secretary, Rev. Fr. Cosmas Okechukwu Ebebe, eulogized late Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Belonwu Okonkwo as an indefatigable soldier of Jesus Christ in the ministerial priesthood, who served the Lord with his heart, soul and body.
Late Fr. Belonwu was the first Bishop’s Secretary of the first Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese (Archbishop Alber Obiefuna of blessed memory), the first Public Relations Officer of Awka Diocese and the first Chaplain of the them Awka College of Education (currently, Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe). He was a Rome trained Canon Lawyer and an educationist, who was stark and clear in his Catholic teaching, and never allowed any unauthorized prayer group to operate in a parish under his watch.
Fr. Belonwu was tough, but peaceful, forgiving, highly respectful and calculated, an obedient son of the Church, a great builder of structures, who was full of gratitude, and known for his great belief in the omniscience of God, hence his usual expression, “Chukwu na-ahx [wal[wacha, mmadx na-ahx esekeleenu”.
He started the building of the remarkable St Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Achina, as the former parish priest. As parish priest of Assumption Parish, Nimo, he fought the “Arqbunagx” and “{kpx Arx” syncretic practices. At Madonna Assumpta Parish, Agulu, he fought the “Osu Caste” system, and organized the official abolition of the “Osu Caste” System in the remarkable 2000 AD. Fr Belonwu was also a former parish priest at St Peter’s Parish, Uga.